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Belmont Stakes just one of many highlights on stellar race card

Updated June 6, 2019 - 7:08 pm

With casual racing fans likely to pass on Saturday’s Belmont Stakes with no Triple Crown on the line, that means extra elbow room for the rest of us as we savor a glorious stakes-packed card at Belmont Park that could give the final day of the Breeders’ Cup a run for its money.

The Belmont Stakes, the 1½-mile marathon that concludes the Triple Crown, is a true anachronism. It’s contested at a distance that most of these 3-year-olds will never run again at an expansive track with turns so wide they resemble fallow cornfields. But as “The Test of the Champion,” it is still held in high regard by horseplayers, even when there is no Kentucky Derby and Preakness Stakes winner trying to add his name to the history books.

And that’s just one of many highlights on the 13-race card at Big Sandy.

The Grade 1 stakes begin early, with the Just A Game in Race 4, and come fast and furious thereafter: The Ogden Phipps, The Jaipur Invitational, the Acorn, the Woody Stephens, the Metropolitan Mile, the Manhattan and finally the Belmont Stakes. Toss in the $150,000 Easy Goer, run as Race 3, and the Grade 2 Brooklyn Handicap as the nightcap and you have roughly six hours of nearly nonstop stakes action featuring top horses in virtually every division.

I could easily write a column about each of these races, but the #RJhorseracing handicappers are focused this week on the Metropolitan Mile and the Belmont Stakes, so we’ll just have to leave it at that.

#RJhorseracing featured races

While the Belmont Stakes deservedly gets top billing, many handicappers are just as excited about the Met Mile, which attracted nine of the best sprinters and routers in the land.

Most of the attention will be focused on the 5-2 morning line favorite McKinzie, who has excelled at distances from 7 furlongs to 1⅛ mile for trainer Bob Baffert, and the speedy second choice Mitole (3-1), winner of six straight sprints for trainer Steve Asmussen.

But the competition hardly ends there: Coal Front and Thunder Snow, returning from triumphs in Dubai in the Godolphin Mile and Dubai World Cup, respectively, the speedy Promises Fulfilled, hard-knocking Firenze Fire and Gulfstream Park Mile winner Prince Lucky all have the credentials to spring an upset. And if you liked either of the other two horses in the field — the late-running Tale of Silence or the enigmatic Pavel — I wouldn’t try to talk you off them.

The #RJhorseracing handicappers, however, aren’t feeling anywhere near as conflicted. They strongly endorse McKinzie in this spot, with Mitole and Thunder Snow (5-1) in the minor placings.

As is my wont, I’ll try to beat the favorite with Firenze Fire (4-1), a perfect 3-for-3 at Belmont, with McKinzie to place and Thunder Snow to show.

In the Belmont Stakes, Preakness winner War of Will (2-1) and Tacitus, the 9-5 morning line favorite, will attract the lion’s share of the betting. But there are some other intriguing possibilities in the field who could upend the logical picks, including Everfast, runner-up in the Preakness, the Japanese-bred Master Fencer, Wood Memorial runner-up Tax and Louisiana Derby second-place finisher Spinoff.

The crowd ’cappers are again siding with the chalk, strongly endorsing the fresher Tacitus over War of Will, who will be the only horse in the field to compete in all three legs of the Triple Crown. They’ll try to inject some value into the proposition by using Intrepid Heart (10-1) in third.

“Tacitus took a breather and looks ready to get back to business,” crowd ’capper Joe Mainardi wrote of the crew’s choice.

I agree that Tacitus is the most likely winner, but I’m going to go with another Derby horse who skipped the Preakness: Spinoff (15-1). The Todd Pletcher-trained colt didn’t appear to handle the mud at Churchill Downs, but was on an upward trajectory before that. I’ll use Tacitus and War of Will in the bottom two slots.

Mike Brunker’s horse racing column appears Fridays. He can be reached at mbrunker@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-4656. Follow @mike_brunker on Twitter.

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